Petrit Halilaj

Great Artists

“Abetare (Spider),” a stainless steel sculpture by Petrit Halilaj

Petrit Halilaj

Artist Petrit Halilaj brings the story of his native Kosovo to the U.S. with a dramatic sculptural installation on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In interviews with The New York Times, Halilaj explains the origins of the bronze and steel sculptures – they are based on the school desk doodles of generations of children, including those who lived through the brutal Yugoslav wars in the 1990s.

[“Abetare (Spider),” a stainless steel sculpture by Petrit Halilaj at Metroplitan Museum of Art Roof Garden, NYC. Credit: Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times]

Kosovo artist Halilaj at his Met Rooftop exhibit, NYC
[Petrit Halilaj with his installation at the Met, NYC. Credit: Vincent Tullo for The New York Times]

Halilaj, 38, is now based in Germany, but his artistic focus is on Kosovo, which he and his family fled amid the decade-long conflict in the Balkans. Their home was burned down and the family found shelter in a refugee camp in Albania. There, an Italian psychologist studying the impact of war on the traumatized refugees, encouraged the young Halilaj to draw about his experiences as well as a more peaceful natural world. His talent was evident, and Halilaj eventually went to art school in Italy and began his life as a visual artist.

For the installation at the Met, Halilaj expanded on a project that he started in 2010 when he returned home and saved some of the graffiti-covered desks from his old elementary school that was about to be demolished. He went on to document other school desktop drawings from the other Balkan countries — Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro — that had experienced wars from 1991-2001 after the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

The New York Times reports that Halilaj is currently advising on the creation of a museum of contemporary art in Kosovo, which has been independent since 2008.

Petrit Halilaj's "Abetare" will be at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, NYC, until Oct. 27, 2024.

YWP credits New York Times stories about Petrit Halilaj for the basis of this feature:


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